- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Martin Luther King was a man who believed people could change the world by coming together and working to make a difference, and yesterday people around the country took that to heart and honored the slain civil rights leader by rolling up their sleeves and pitching in.

In the metropolitan Washington area, Gallaudet University art student Roy Ricci was among those committed to serving others: He helped paint a mural of the Capitol at Eastern High School in Northeast.

"I designed and painted the mural with the school's mascot, the ram and the American flag," said Mr. Ricci, 28, through his sign language interpreter. "I started Sunday and hope to finish today."

Mr. Ricci was one of 400 volunteers at Eastern yesterday painting to brighten the hallways of the 100-year-old school.

The school also hosted the children of AOL Time Warner Inc. employees, who decorated personal boxes to give to children with temporary illnesses staying at Children's National Medical Center.

This was the second year the school got a helping hand from volunteers of the Holiday of Service Project, sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the MLK Coalition.

The Holiday of Service follows the model given by King's widow, Coretta Scott King, who says the best way to honor her husband would be by doing acts of kindness through service on the holiday.

"A day on, not a day off," volunteers at the school shouted.

Abraham Ball, 58, who is a custodian of the school, was pleased to see so many youth involved in the effort.

"It is a tremendous job they are doing, coming here to help our school, and we have a lot of young college students here," Mr. Ball said.

King, who was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, would have been 73 on Jan. 15. The first national celebration of the holiday took place in 1986. Several Southern states yesterday also celebrated the birthday of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was born on Jan. 19, 1807.

Since Jan. 15 which would have been King's 73rd birthday 61 community service projects have been done around the District, said Siobhan Dugan, of the Corporation for National Community Service.

At Langston Terrace Dwellings in Benning Heights, volunteers painted the boys and girls club and the adult education center, and removed mud and debris from the walkway between the housing development and Spingarn High School next door.

"The residents call it 'no man's land' because it is almost impassible, and there were a few muggings there this year," said Azikwe Chandler, a volunteer coordinator with AmeriCorps.

Members from AmeriCorps' national civilian community corps and the three black coaches in the National Football League this past season Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings and Herman Edwards of the New York Jets all helped to beautify the neighborhood.

About 150 volunteers rallied in the Langston courtyard before going to work. Some residents, unaware of the rally, came out to satisfy their curiosity and ended up braving the cold weather to help clean up the walkway.

Around the nation, King's message of unity struck a particularly strong chord this year, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

In Atlanta, a standing-room-only crowd of about 2,000 packed the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King once preached.

"I can't help but think how Dr. King would be pleased at how we've come together since September 11," said Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat.

First lady Laura Bush, who also attended the service in Atlanta, called King "a man committed to peace and a man committed to change."

"American history is unimaginable without him," Mrs. Bush said. "He stood for truth; he did the will of God and made America a more just nation."

King's survivors asked people to use the federal holiday as a day of service.

"We don't see it as a day off," his son Martin Luther King III said in Detroit. "We see it as a day on which people can be involved in community service."

In Boston, King's eldest daughter, Yolanda, addressed 1,500 people at the city's largest annual MLK Memorial Breakfast. She said September 11 had erased racial differences for now.

"Skin color was covered by the ash of burning towers," she said. "Perhaps the best response to this tragedy is to not go back to normal."

Joel Bourgeois, 42, had not attended Los Angeles' King Day parade for years, but he was among the thousands who showed up at the event Monday.

Mr. Bourgeois said he believes the war on terrorism has taken a toll on King's nonviolent vision.

"I don't think Dr. King's dream may ever come alive soon," she said.

In St. Paul, Minn., former Vice President Walter Mondale said King would demand that America respect civil rights in its battle against terrorism.

"That's the only way to fight it," Mr. Mondale said. "I'm sure if King were around, he would say that his struggle is designed to help all Americans be a part of the fullness of American life."

Members of the Democrat-controlled Colorado Senate were among the politicians in Denver's 17th annual King parade and march. Senators had the day off for the first time since Colorado recognized the holiday in 1984.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives continued working.

In Raleigh, N.C., about 700 people marched about a mile in the rain to the former state Capitol for speeches recalling King's life and work.

"Civil rights are still being threatened," marcher Stephanie Distefano said from under her umbrella.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg warmly greeted David Dinkins, the only black to be elected the city's mayor, during a City Hall ceremony.

He called Mr. Dinkins "a friend, an adviser and someone whose judgment I respect."

New York's senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, also attended the City Council ceremony.

Mrs. Clinton said it's important to recall King's teachings, especially as the city works to rebuild its hope and landscape since the terror attacks.

"In the face of despair, he preached hope," she said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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